Michigan State Football: Just in the Nic(hol) of Time, Spartans Shock Badgers

Benjamin HermanCorrespondent IIOctober 23, 2011

EAST LANSING, MI - OCTOBER 22:  Chris Borland #44 of the Wisconsin Badgers tackles Dion Sims #80 of the Michigan State Spartans after Sims caught a pass from Kirk Cousins in the second quarter of the game at Spartan Stadium on October 22, 2011 in East Lansing, Michigan.  (Photo by Mark Cunningham/Getty Images)
Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

Michigan State has just ended Wisconsin’s chances of winning a national championship in one of the most exciting endings in recent college football memory.

On the final play of the game, with the score tied 31-31, Kirk Cousins threw a 44-yard Hail Mary which ricocheted off a few players in the end zone and into the hands of quarterback-turned-receiver Keith Nichol on the 1-yard line. He battled Wisconsin linebacker Mike Taylor to the ground and the play was initially ruled down short of the goal line. After further review, it was called a touchdown, Michigan State won 37-31 and East Lansing, Michigan exploded.

The final play actually over-shadowed the rest of what was overall one of the best games of the college football season thus far. Heisman hopeful Russell Wilson showed typical signs of brilliance, but for the first time this season showed momentary lapses of judgment, throwing two interceptions.

Wisconsin opened the game with a stellar drive, going 80 yards in 11 plays capped by a Montee Ball nine-yard touchdown run. On Michigan State’s first play from scrimmage, Edwin Baker fumbled and the Badgers recovered. After another quick strike touchdown, Wisconsin had a 14-0 lead and seemingly all the momentum.

The game shifted on two plays. The first was a Wisconsin safety suffered after Wilson was called for intentional grounding in the end zone. The second was an apparent injury suffered by Ball after taking a huge hit late in the first quarter. He did not become a factor again until late in the game.

Michigan State rattled off a 31-3 run from the beginning of the second quarter to the beginning of the fourth quarter thanks to a stellar effort from Kirk Cousins and big plays from his two leading receivers, B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin. Cousins played one of the best games of his career, managing his team with a 22-for-31 effort and 290 yards. The biggest pass of all coming on the game’s last fateful play.


Trailing 31-17 with less than 10 minutes to play in the game, Wilson showed why he is deserving of the national hype. He led the Badgers on back-to-back touchdown drives, pulling his team even with 1:26 to go.

At that point a very interesting game of cat and mouse took place between Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio and Wisconsin coach Brett Bielema. On the Spartans final possession, the two teams rotated calling timeouts, as each thought they would have an opportunity to get into field goal range before the end of regulation. Michigan State converted a 3rd-and-7 as well as a 3rd-and-8 on their final possession, putting them in position to even attempt the final play.

Also lost in the pandemonium of the winning touchdown by the Spartans was how clean of a game they played. The Spartans, notorious for mental mistakes and personal foul penalties, committed exactly zero penalties against the Badgers.

For the Spartans, they move to 6-1 overall and 3-0 in the Big Ten. A win next week at Nebraska makes them the prohibitive favorite to represent the Legends Division in the Big Ten Championship Game. As for Wisconsin, this loss knocks them out of the chase for the BCS National Championship, but at 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the Big Ten, the Badgers still control their own destiny in the Big Ten Leaders Division.

Expect these two teams to meet again December 3 in Indianapolis, this time with a Rose Bowl birth on the line. If that happens, let’s hope these teams put on half the show they did Saturday night in East Lansing.